Thank you, Robin Williams + The Science of Laughter


I’m saddened by the passing of Robin Williams. And I have to admit, I’m a bit surprised by how much. 

Usually when it’s someone I don’t actually know, I can empathize, but I rarely feel super affected. But this feels totally different for me...and I’m guessing for many of you, too. 

The reason I believe we’re experiencing such a collective loss is best captured by the late comedian and entertainer Victor Borge: “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” 

So, laughter literally brings us closer! And Robin’s amazing ability to make us laugh, together with his warmth and openness, made him feel totally accessible to us.

As a tribute to Robin Williams and his unique and generous comedic genius, I thought I’d share some interesting facts about the art and science of laughter (it’s crazier than you think!): 

1. Forget love, laughter is the oldest universal language.
It crosses genders, nationalities and yes, species. Researchers have found that chimps, gorillas, rats, even dolphins have a form of laughter (aka, “positive vocalization”) and are also ticklish. No joke! 

• Laughter is inherently instinctive, as anyone who has ever tickled a baby knows.
• In its earliest origins, laughter signaled playful intent. Still does. In fact, studies show that children at play typically laugh 300 to 400 times a day, whereas adults are more like 10 to 15 times a day. Seriously, what does that tell you?

2. Laughter is infectious. Pass it on.
Though we’ve all laughed when we’re by ourselves, we’re 30 times more likely to laugh in social situations. And laughter is a total bonding experience: Check out this amazing video of Robin and Koko the Gorilla. Talk about monkeying around....

• We’re way more likely to laugh watching a movie with a friend than when alone.
• Laughter has a way of deflecting fear, anger, shyness and embarrassment in public, as anyone who has ever introduced someone by the wrong name, congratulated a women on being pregnant when she wasn’t and a zillion other unmentionable mortifying behaviors.
• Interestingly, we tend to laugh more honestly when talking with others than when hearing a joke...even a funny one. Laughter doesn’t interrupt conversations so much as punctuate them. 

3. Laughter is like a secret-weapon aphrodisiac. 
At the very least, it makes us look more attractive. 

In a private study WOOPAAH conducted with a national dating site, we found that photos of people laughing got way more hits (over 400% more) than those photos with a smile or a provocative pose. Update those dating profiles, people!

• Studies show that women laugh more with men they’re attracted to, and men are more attracted to women who find them funny. 
• On a purely intuitive level, smiling and laughter help put others around you at ease. 

4. Laughter really IS the best medicine. Hollar! (Or rather, hahaha!)
Dr. Hunter Adams—not so coincidentally portrayed by Robin Williams in the film “Patch Adams”—showed that laughter could dramatically improve the quality of life for hospital patients...especially kids. 

• It can lower blood pressure, ease stress by stimulating our endorphins and actually be good for the circulatory system.
• According to the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, people diagnosed with chronic diseases who had a sense of humor had a 31% better survival rate.

5. Laughter is a natural at reducing pain.
Norman Cousins, who wrote Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing way back in 1979, found that 10 solid minutes of good belly laughing could relieve pain for up to two hours. Couldn’t hurt to try....

• It could be the next wonder drug. In a study of orthopedic-surgery patients, James Rotton, Ph.D., a professor at Florida International University, found that those who watched a marathon of comedy videos requested fewer pain meds and tranquilizers than those who watched only dramas. 
• As a natural mood elevator, laughter can help us reframe negative events, help lighten the darkness.

Again, thank you, Robin, you comedic luminary, for illuminating our lives with such brilliance. 

With love,